Food: Chinese Knives, Shiitake Wontons, 1400+ Meals & Tackling Food-Waste with Wok For 1000

So, this could quite possibly be the quickest I’ve *ever* typed up a post, edited photos and got it live on the blog. I guess that pretty much sums up how awesome my Tuesday was!

Having kindly been invited to volunteer as part of Wok for 1000, I was expecting to spend my day perhaps washing up, maybe doing a spot of pan-stirring, possibly some onion slicing. The reality, however, was completely different. Sure I sliced a lot of onions, and I *think* I stirred a pan at one point. I didn’t do any washing up, I ate some delicious food, I taught some knife skills (and practised my first-aid when said teaching didn’t quite go to plan). Under the watchful eye of the school of wok‘s Jeremy Pang, who is as utterly as adorable in real life as I had imagined, 200 volunteers donned (paper) chef hats (plastic) aprons and crowded into Borough Market this morning for a cause that is particularly close to my heart.

Food Waste is something I’m passionate about. Read: I loathe it. It makes me sick with anger to think about the ridiculous amounts of food that households in this country throw away, let alone restaurants, shops, office canteens. There’s very often nothing wrong with said food, and there’s so many people who would be unbelievably grateful for it. When it’s for a homeless shelter, or donated to the elderly struggling to survive on a basic pension, or to replace a (let’s face it) substandard hospital meal, all of this food could come in so useful. This is where Plan Zheroes come in. Their aim is to eradicate food waste in London  by connecting businesses with excess food to charities in need of food. Kinda like Tinder for leftovers (the kind of Tinder I could appreciate!).

Wok for 1000 not only aims at promoting both Plan Zheroes and their supported charities, but also at beating hunger across the city. The aim was to prep, cook and deliver 1000 meals to those in need – and not only did we achieve this, but we smashed through the target. At final count before I left, the meals were counted at roughly 1400. For just a few hours work, a few leftover ingredients, that’s amazing. Just think about what we could achieve if more people took these ‘waste’ ingredients and transformed them into a meal for their community.

Throughout the day we were treated to demos by Jeremy himself, including a tutorial on how to hold and use the (frankly terrifying) knives used in Chinese cooking. The result is that they are surprisingly easy to use, the knives I currently own are far too blunt, and I want one in my life. I demonstrated my chopping skills, only to have someone copy me and promptly slice their finger. Whoops. We made a ridiculous number of wontons (well in excess of the 4000 we were aiming for). With a combo of veggie and pork ones, it was the deep-fried shiitake mushroom ones that completely took my heart. So, so good.

Oh, and I finally got to meet Erica (who is every bit as lovely as her amazing hair colour makes her seem), and she shared her well-honed Wonton-shaping knowledge with me. If that isn’t worth getting rather cold for, I don’t know what is…

I learnt new skills, got to share some of my own skills (if not successfully), I got to see the pure gratitude in people’s eyes when they received our food, and I got to eat some rather delicious noms myself. Thank you Jeremy, School of Wok and Plan Zheroes for such an empowering day!

How do you think we could continue to tackle food waste?

Lifestyle: What £30 Can Buy & What To Donate to a Food Bank

These days, £30 can’t even buy you a dress from Topshop. It might buy you a pair of jeans. It won’t get you two MAC lipsticks. It CAN, however, virtually buy a whole shop for three families.

 photo 34ea6b8f-bd27-4073-8817-18f499057c93_zpsonfa49vj.jpgThink Money have been working alongside local food banks up and down the country to look at the reasons underlying the rising food poverty in the UK. They invited me to take part in the Food Bank Challenge and I jumped at the chance. On a student budget it is often difficult to find anything spare to support charities, even being on a paid internship money wasn’t exactly going spare in my pocket. This gave me the opportunity to support a cause I feel strongly about, beyond the odd donation of a can here or there. It also gave me a challenge – how much can I buy for £30. I was actually quite shocked at the results…

I pretty much immediately decided I wanted to try and get things in ‘threes’ – in other words buy three families worth of shopping. I did check with my local foodbank and they kindly said they were inundated with pasta and rice, but short on things to serve with them, along with toiletries. I also didn’t pick up any fresh produce as most food banks just ask for non-perishable goods.

In the end I had an overloaded trolley of bits and pieces, so full and heavy I was struggling to push it! I’d been roughly adding it up as I went round, but was doubting myself – no way could this amount of food come in at around £30. However I was proved wrong with the entire trolley-full coming in at £35.45.

 photo What to Donate to a Food Bank 1_zpsmtly5hgf.jpgI tried to pick things up in ‘meals’ as this made most sense to me. First up was breakfast, and I grabbed 3 lots of cereal, 3 cartons of UHT milk, 3 cartons of fruit juice and 3 packs of teabags. The Foodbank says a lot of donations tend to overlook breakfast and, whilst they are grateful for anything received, it can be hard knowing families are going without anything to eat before work or school.

 photo What to Donate to a Food Bank 3_zpshjblpoho.jpgLunch bits were where I became a bit stuck, but eventually went for crisps, crackers and biscuits, along with bottles of squash. Again, three of everything – I was lucky as both the crisps and the squash ending up being on a multi-buy offer the weekend I shopped!

Dinners were easier, and again I got three of everything. I think I’ve remembered just about everything but I picked up chopped tomatoes, cooking sauces (a range from curry to cheesy sauce – I was shocked at how much more expensive non-tomato products are!), stock cubes, gravy, soup, peas, carrots, potatoes, sweetcorn, kidney beans and even some fruit.

 photo What to Donate to a Food Bank 2_zpsuyecy2s4.jpgToiletries wise, budget was starting to stretch. I ended up getting only one lot of toilet roll, mainly as my local Sainsbury’s was out of their cheaper packs. I picked up shower gel, shampoo, conditioner and even some sanitary towels – something I totally take for granted as I can’t imagine not being able to afford these!

I took everything to the Putney branch of the Wandsworth Food Bank Network. The workers there were so grateful, a lovely woman who made me a cup of tea (I then felt gulity for drinking their tea!), and whilst we were there a father was signing up to receive some food. They were so touched we’d thought to go and check what they were short of beforehand, and it was clear our donations would make a real difference.

 photo What to Donate to a Food Bank 4_zpswpok7rbx.jpgAlongside this shop, I also took along a few bags worth of stationery and cleaning products. I find that I get sent a lot of stationery samples at this time of year and, whilst I am extremely grateful, I often find my drawers overflowing with pens and notepads. Likewise with cleaning products this year – I’ve been sent some lovely bits, but our flat comes equipped with bits like that (plus a cleaner). With limited space to transport things back I took the decision to donate some of it to the Food Bank – again they were so grateful. This particular branch run career sessions weekly, where they help with CVs and applications, so the stationery will come in so useful. It also made me think how integral food banks are to society – not just for the food element, but for the support they provide. My local one offers parenting sessions, toddler play-times, career help, and just a place to chat.

I’m so grateful to Think Money for giving me this opportunity to see how far £30 goes, I’ll definitely be thinking more about how I spend my money in the future! I love that I have been able to support a cause I feel strongly, and I know my donations will be enjoyed. I only wish I could do it more often!

Have you ever donated to a food bank? What items would you donate? Is there something I’ve donated that you wouldn’t have thought of?